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27.7.13

Clearing The Air

It's 2:30 in the morning and the bone-head idiots who think they are doing a public service by marching through the neighborhood beating drums to wake everyone up for the big meal before fasting begins at dawn are doing their level best to make me lose my cool.

I am all for folks having their religions.  I have no problem with it.  But there are some Islamic traditions that predate alarm clocks and cell phones with programmable alerts that just annoy the stuffing out of us non-Muslims.

Take for instance the very old tradition of calling the prayer time from the minarets.  It was great up until electricity became widely available.  Here in Indonesia, the mosques use public address systems that are invariably turned to 11 on a scale of 10, and the cantors have no idea how to use a microphone.  Consequently, they place the mic practically inside their mouths and the result is horribly distorted sound.  Add to that the fact that many of the cantors are quite old and their singing voices (to use the term loosely) have long since gone the way of fingernails on chalkboards.

As if all of this isn't enough, each mosque in Jakarta does its own thing on its own time, so they all start at different times and add their own flourishes.  Multiply this by the fact that the mosques number about one for every 20 houses, and you have complete cacophony at ear-bleed amplification with voices slightly more harmonious than rutting bullfrogs.

Lest you think I have no right to criticize, then I point out that drum corps at 2:30am, followed shortly by every mosque for miles around starting the morning prayers, and I believe I have every right to answer.  Indeed, the inharmonious intrusion on my private space gives me cache to complain.

Most Westerners who have not had direct experience with large Islamic populations most likely have a Hollywood image of the calls to prayer: a lone figure silhouetted against the setting sun chanting with perfect pitch and clarity using his native voice.

The reality in most Islamic countries now is a centralized system of recordings that are broadcast simultaneously through the mosques.  However, in Indonesia, the reality is usually an elderly man with a poor voice using an ill-tuned PA system to belt out the calls at torturous volumes.  What's more, each competes with the dozens of others in any given area in completely mistimed and malpitched jumbles of sound.

It would be far more pleasing and far less intrusive if Indonesia, or at least Jakarta, adopted a more sensible system.  There is no reason why the mosques have to be so loud, or that they can't be wired to a centralized system using a voice that is melodious and soothing.

Given that one passes at least two mosques in a 100-yard dash, one need not fear that someone won't hear the call.  So turn down the speakers just a tad.  Also, most Muslims that I know now have cell phones programmed to give the call at the appropriate times using recorded voices of superior quality.  Furthermore, every TeeVee station in town broadcasts the evening call to prayer.  Why can't the entire city simply carry that recording in synchronized broadcasts?  And if each mosque insists on using its own cantor, is the PA system really necessary.  The aforementioned plethora of mosques across the city ensure that any human anywhere in town can hear at least one cantor at any given time without the use of speakers.

It is now 4:30am on Saturday morning and I can hear distinctly four separate mosques all doing different chants at the same time, each having begun at a slightly different time than the others.

To make the final point, it is bad enough that this din be broadcast via PA across the surrounding neighborhoods, but to stand directly in front of one of the mosques while this is going on is literally painful.  One has to yell to be heard by someone standing right next to them.  Is this really necessary?  Does this invite prayerfulness and contemplation?  Rather, I think it is frightening to young children and small animals, as well as doing everything possible to negate a contemplative mood.

I have no problem with Islam or its traditions.  When properly done, the calls to prayer are pleasing and inspiring.  They induce the appropriate mood and setting for prayer, even among those who do not follow the religion.  However, as it is currently practiced, it repulses and annoys.  It drives one away from peacefulness and calm to the point of distraction.

It's time to rethink the current system.  There is no need to do away with tradition, simply realize that there are enough mosques to ensure everyone hears without the need for a PA system.  Also, a centralized system broadcast in synch with a professional voice would seem to be a win-win situation for all concerned.


I can hear the usual hue and cry.  "This is an Islamic country," they always say.  I beg to differ.  The Indonesian constitution gives equal weight to four religions, of which Islam is only one.  A few slight concessions on everyone's part would lead to greater harmony on many different levels.  (Use headphones to listen to the recording and get the full effect)

Certainly, if your goal is to propagate the faith, it stands to reason that you don't want to frighten and annoy the prospects from the get-go.

And as for the over-zealous men with their drums at 2:30am, stow it.  This is a fine example of brass horns for beggars.  The devout who are fasting are fully motivated to use their alarms to wake up for the morning meal.  The rest of us prefer to sleep before a long day at the office or, more importantly, our day of rest.  Your calamitous revelry serves no purpose than to give excuse to be asinine.  I'm quite sure that the practice was necessary in the 15th century before electricity and wind-up clocks, but it is little more than an excuse for otherwise insignificant people to draw attention to themselves.  It is not religious fervor that compels you, but insecurity.

In short, raising Hell does not praise God.